The second wave of Covid had forced India Inc to switch to the work from home (WfH) model. And just as the return to the office was gaining momentum, the Omicron variant struck, prompting companies to reduce or stop business travel / team meetings altogether and return to the WfH model.
Despite its mild effects, WfH is in most cases considered a temporary solution. Defining WfH as “teleworking from home as a temporary alternative way of working”, the ILO has estimated that around 18 percent of workers globally are in WfH-friendly jobs with the required infrastructure. While professionals in corporate offices may work remotely, those working in factories, warehouses, supply chains or hotels, etc., must necessarily be physically present.
Calling remote working an “aberration,” Wall Street heavyweights such as Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and JPMorgan Chase are among the strongest supporters of the campaign. status quo ante. For many, prolonged work from home – glued to a laptop, lacking the hustle and bustle of the office and spontaneous interactions with colleagues – tends to create stress; the fortuitous camaraderie usually created by an impromptu encounter with tea / coffee breaks, lunch, or a hallway conversation is crucial.
No heat, no energy
Meetings on Zoom or Teams cannot provide energy, warmth, and understanding the way physical meetings do. Recreating social connectivity, a crucial ingredient that enables people to be productive collaboratively, is not easy in virtual and hybrid environments. Like kids in school, office workers really thrive in an environment of relationships, creativity, curiosity, and questioning.
Steve Jobs, after the launch of the iPad, spoke of Apple’s DNA: “Technology alone is not enough. It is technology married to the liberal arts, married to the humanities, which gives the results which make our hearts sing ”.
By contrast, many tech CEOs fear that strict back-to-office mandates will deter restless software engineers, warning employees will jump ship if the rules are too restrictive. A growing trend indicates that employees want more choices about when and where they work. While most are keen on going to the office, especially for collaborative work, they want flexible and fewer workdays. Even though the lockdowns were lifted after the initial pandemic peak, organizations couldn’t go back to all of the old ways of working. Employer expectations have emerged in line with the drastic change in the way employees view their workplace.
With the pandemic having disproportionately affected women in terms of increased unemployment as well as domestic responsibilities, the WfH could potentially help them. Cramped in limited personal space and stressed by the frequent change of identity from a professional to a mother, wife or daughter-in-law, some mid-career employees have found the work-life balance unclear. .
But the flexibility of places and hours of work would indeed attract more women. The trend is endorsed by recruitment firm TeamLease which reports a 25-37% increase in the number of women applying for jobs, hired in industries such as IT, e-commerce, healthcare, retail, outsourcing of knowledge processes and pharmacy.
Businesses are changing; always new challenges create new models, unknown in their scope and impact. As Peter Drucker has often argued, an organization needs to evolve a strategy to achieve results in an uncertain environment, companies are reimagining the new future of work, to be ready for the future. Today, the fusion of business and technology opens up immense new possibilities; collaborative virtual workspaces are becoming a new standard; and businesses are embracing hybridization like never before.
As Paul McDonald of consulting firm Robert Half predicts, employers will be more open to flexible work formats, including the combination of office time and work from home, with workers having the option of working from home and going to work from home. in the office occasionally for team planning, capacity building, and social connection.
The writer is a former managing director of Container Corporation of India